Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Let's Face It

I have always imagined that one of the most pivotal moments as a parent is when your child grows taller than you. It seems like a weighty, significant change. You, the parent, always taller and wiser, able to easily hug or put an arm around the child. The child, who has always looked up to the parent, is suddenly staring you straight in the eye, and soon will be looking down on you. It becomes much easier for them to hug you than for you to hug them. And they are less inclined, at least as teenagers.

We are not quite there yet in our house, but it's close. My middle son is about an inch shorter than me, my oldest maybe another half inch shorter. They can almost look me straight in the eye. Every time we are standing near each other my husband teases, "OHH! He's taller than you!" Every time I have to stand up straighter and we stand back to back, measuring. We have already passed the point where two of the boys have feet bigger than both me and my husband.

It turns out there is an even stranger crossroads in the parent-child relationship. It's when your child starts getting more email than you do on a daily basis. Two of my boys have reached that crossroads this summer. It is not insignificant. I get a lot of email. But now they get more. And since I somewhat loosely monitor their email traffic, it is quickly turning into a more than full time job for me.

I know the fact that I monitor their email may be controversial, but I still feel it is necessary in their cases. I don't comment or act on anything I read (I have not yet had reason to do so). I respect their privacy. But I also know that email is not private, and the fact that they are now on Facebook, with my permission, means they have a more public presence that needs to be protected and guided, at least for a time, until they understand the culture and the rules.

Teenagers, no matter how smart, are not always the sharpest tools in the shed. In the age of email and Facebook, when they make a mistake, it is a very public one. I didn't grow up with email. The most embarrassing thing that could happen when I was growing up was a note passed in class intercepted by a teacher and read out loud to the class. And that meant that only 30 people at most would experience your humiliation. At the time that number was enough for me to not pass notes in class. Today the consequences of a mistake are bigger and more public, but somehow kids don't see it that way.

After two days on Facebook, my middle son has 45 friends, from kids he plays Little League baseball with to kids in Japan and Korea he met at camp, and most of his relatives, including his grandmother. Both he and his brother are even now friends with some of MY friends on Facebook. I expect the number of friends to grow substantially as they are social kids who are a part of a lot of different circles of friends.

Now, posting something thoughtless, that you should have thought twice about, has a much larger audience with the ability to react instantly. It's not a stupid note in class anymore. An unfortunate email can be forwarded and before you know it, it can reach hundreds or thousands of people. This kind of public presence is definitely something kids and teens need to experience with guidance. They have this persistent and unintelligent notion that they have some sense of privacy, and they just don't. What's interesting to me is that they seem to value privacy much less than people of previous generations, but that might just be part of being a teenager.

So why do I let my boys join Facebook and text and email? Why do I kill myself trying to keep some sort of handle on what is going on? Because Facebook and email offer an unprecedented and very powerful way to communicate and connect with others. Savvy use of social media is an essential skill for them, and they need practice and help to use it in a responsible way.

And really, how cute is it that some of the boys' friends are sharing pictures of friendship bracelets they are making, inspired by their recent week at camp.

I know, I know, the pictures won't always be that innocent.

My two older boys are poised to match and pass me in height very soon. I'm sure they will surpass me in their knowledge of how to use Facebook. Probably by tomorrow.

1 comment:

Jane LaFazio said...

good to catch up. I haven't been here in a while, Amber, and I think your boys have grown a couple of feet and a couple of years older! LOVE your writing. glad you do it.